Imagine yourself at SoulCycle with Chairman Mao

On Ellen and George W. Bush's budding friendship.

Have you heard about the latest celebrity micro-scandal? Ellen DeGeneres was photographed paling around with George W. Bush at a Cowboys game. Unsurprisingly, seeing Ellen, a lesbian monoculture icon, chilling with the dude who was super into banning gay marriage and did the Iraq War, which killed over a million people, ruffled a couple feathers.

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Ellen addressed the inevitable outrage on her show, opining:

"They thought, why is a gay Hollywood liberal sitting next to a conservative Republican president? A lot of people were mad… Here's the thing. I'm friends with George Bush. In fact, I'm friends with a lot of people who don't share the same beliefs that I have… But just because I don't agree with someone on everything doesn't mean that I'm not going to be friends with them. When I say, 'be kind to one another,' I don't only mean the people that think the same way that you do. I mean be kind to everyone."

A sampling of the Twitter discourse that followed:

  • “Here’s the thing, Ellen, George W. Bush is a war criminal who is responsible for death on a cataclysmic scale. It’s not a matter of being friends with people with different beliefs—we all have those friends—it’s about having a little perspective on the damage he’s done.”

  • “reducing the problem with George W Bush to ‘we have different beliefs’ is folksy disingenuous malarkey! He used his structural power to commit some of the most heinous acts in American history!”

  • “Yes we get it be kind to people you disagree with yadda yadda. We have families, this is obvious. The issue w/ Ellen & Bush is that he's a torturer war criminal w the blood of hundreds of thousands of innocents on his hands, he's never faced justice & its spun as a 'disagreement'“

Fair enough!

From a beyond good and evil standpoint, Ellen’s celebrity friendship with George W. Bush, during his post-presidential era, makes total sense. His daughter is hosting the Today show. Even before this outrage cycle, he was already appearing as a guest on Ellen’s show. He has been totally rehabilitated as cute, something that has been facilitated by the fact that, despite all the war crimes, he does have this inherent harmlessly cute vibe to him. Being affable has always been kind of his thing, which probably helped him get away with said crimes.

But really, rich people tend to bond no matter their political differences: even in the case of a gay woman being friends with a guy who wanted to amend the constitution so she could never get married. There’s a special connection the elite share with one another, which transcends all that. Something that will never be understood by us plebs: tragic nobodies who might have to experience the consequences of politics, as opposed to viewing them as a sports team affiliation.

Other celebs, naturally, clung to Ellen’s message of bipartisan kindness. Reese Witherspoon, Orlando Bloom, Jamie Foxx, and even Tulsi Gabbard eagerly praised the talk show host. “Yay being nice to each other no matter what,” the most scrutinized people in the world howled. “Kindness, for the win!” chanted the people at the top, who have to deal with the people on the bottom scolding them constantly. Big stars have always been largely amoral, but in the Trump era, where pop culture and politics are one in the same, we now demand a slightly more ethical brand of elites.

(Tangentially, I hope to be murdered by Ellen DeGeneres one day.)

Mostly, Ellen’s hangout with W got me thinking about what I would say if I was seated next to him at football game. Being aggressively mean to him wouldn’t be my style—sorry, I literally talk about my fear of interpersonal confrontation every week in therapy, sorry again. I respect the Iraqi journalist who threw a shoe at him and I’m glad there are shoe-throwers in this world. But I am more of a questions-asker.

I would ask him if he feels bad about Iraq and all his wars, if it eats him up inside. If things weren’t too awkward after that, I’d keep probing. Ask if he’s changed his mind about gay marriage, and why he’s obsessed with painting veterans and Iraqis impacted by his war.

Then I started fantasizing about meeting other terrible men from history. I imagined myself at a WNBA game with Osama bin Laden, the most notorious terrorist of all time, and what I’d be dying to ask him. I mean, first of all, here’s a guy who has over 50 siblings. Does he remember all of their names? I gotta know!

What would say if I was seated next to Adolf Hitler on an airplane, at brunch with Stalin, or in a SoulCycle class with Chairman Mao? If, god forbid, I found myself on a coffee date with the Unabomber, I’d of course mumble something about how I do not condone murder, but also, I’d have to inquire: Does he know what social media is and does he have an opinion about it?

How polite would I be to Pol Pot? Would I schmooze with Saddam? Give a friendly wave to Genghis Khan? Flirt with Caligula? Mingle with Robespierre? Would I get up the nerve to snub Mussolini, or give the finger to Franco?

Regardless of my fantasies, this is hopefully just the beginning of Ellen’s open embrace of highly controversial political figures. By the end of 2020, she’ll no doubt be lunching with Kim Jong-un, hitting the ski slopes with Henry Kissinger, and sending a “goodnight cutie” text to Vladimir Putin. And I, personally, cannot wait.


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